"Good Thing," the startling new play from Brooklyn transplant Jessica Goldberg, is a tale of two kitchens.
Bouncing off the stage-left walls at the Actors' Gang in Hollywood are "the kids," as Goldberg calls them: a man with a dead-end job who's tempted by a old high school flame while his pregnant wife and younger brother bond over a ruinous fondness for methamphetamine. The stage-right kitchen belongs to "the adults"--a guidance counselor and his wife, mired in a childless 20-year marriage recently frayed by adultery and alcoholism. In Act 2, generations collide, families fracture, and at least one good thing does indeed emerge from the wreckage.
The Taper, Too production of "Good Thing," which runs through next Saturday, marks Goldberg's first fully staged production in Los Angeles.
Hovering over the stove of her own kitchen, a cozy 1940s-era black-and-white tile nook in the corner of a hilltop Silver Lake bungalow, Goldberg, 28, makes a pot of tea and ponders which set of characters she feels closer to. "Definitely, there are times I really want to be a kid, but I have a very mature life; I take my work really seriously. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle."
"Good Thing" tackles big issues like drug abuse, fidelity and family dysfunction, but Goldberg had modest aims when she started writing the play in Brooklyn two years ago. "My work is really about people I know and whatever themes come out of those people come out. I just had these people that I wanted to give voices to--people I grew up with, or parts of me."
One of the most striking voices in the play belongs to Bobby (John Cabrera), the zoned-out addict who explains his need for "speed." "My thoughts are crystal-clear now, my thoughts are pure, my thoughts are like water, I can see 'em, they make sense, I can hold 'em in my mouth. . . . Instead of this dirt in my head, this trash, this confusion, this bumble, bumble of stupid words."
It's a mentality Goldberg understands intimately, having witnessed drug addiction among her own friends. "Substance abuse--it's an important subject," says Goldberg, who has a habit of beginning new sentences before she's finished old ones. "There's a need for it. . . . I'm trying to find what it is, somehow. I think that's why you write, is to try to figure something out, or make it so you can control the other person, so at the end the person can say, 'Oh, I'll get help.' [But] maybe they want to die . . . because some people do kick it."
The slice of druggie life depicted in her play does not always ring a bell of recognition with audiences--even those who should know better. "What's so interesting to me," Goldberg says, "is this thing that happens where people watch [my plays], like, through glass and go, 'Oh, this is terribly sad. . . . Do kids really do that?' "
Goldberg spent months allowing her "Good Thing" characters to emerge, but the key story turn that cracked open the play came to her in a flash. "That's one of those moments, when you're sitting there, it's so exciting, so thrilling to figure out that piece of the puzzle."
Goldberg grew up in Woodstock, N.Y., where her parents literally ran mom-and-pop record stores--each had a shop. In the rural upstate enclave of musicians, artists and ex-hippies, Goldberg muses, "It's like all those '60s people who were the adults we had around [at Woodstock], they embraced this kind of freedom. I grew up with all the kids from the Band. And then Richard Manuel committed suicide when we were all, like, in seventh grade. It was a lot of drugs, and it was always kind of strange because they were sort of like celebrities, sort of romantic. So there was always that line between what is passionate and what is meaningful, between stability and wanting to be wild."
Goldberg graduated from high school in 1990 and worked in a video store for a year, then began a five-year master's program at New York University. There, she discovered her metier. "I didn't realize it was possible to write a play. I'd always wanted to write fiction but was never really good at prose."
Inspired by Maria Irene Fornes and Caryl Churchill's "toughness," David Mamet's dialogue and Sam Shepard's "Buried Child," Goldberg felt especially drawn to the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. "I totally steal from Chekhov," she says. "I just love his stories."